Taylor Boren needed only four months to become fluent in Swedish.
He was motivated by the passion he developed at the University of Washington for social justice involving disability rights, along with a strong desire to become a Fulbright Scholar to work on a project in Sweden.
The 23-year-old Bellingham High School graduate is the son of Cecil and Jennifer Boren, former Bellingham residents who live near Spokane. Boren was a valedictorian at Bellingham High and earned statewide honors in debate and cello. He graduated from the UW last year with a Bachelor of Science in psychology and a Bachelor of Arts in law, societies and justice.
Question: Taylor, you aren't disabled, so what sparked your interest in disability rights?
Answer: I took a seminar at the UW two years ago in international law and disability rights. The professor, Sherrie Brown, is highly respected. She's really cultivated my interest in disability rights. I believe pursuit of disability rights is one of the greatest social justice challenges of our time.
Q: Is that why your interest stretches to international policies?
A: What really opened my eyes was seeing how the world was doing something different. I was able to see incredible strides made by other countries such as Canada and those in the European Union. One example is how they ensure people with disabilities have a strong presence in the workforce.
We need greater social integration for persons with disabilities. This has become a growing population because of recent wars, and this ties into my research.
Q: Your project this year at UW?
A: Yes, this school year I've been doing research at the Department of Psychiatry. It's a psychology project involving research in developing more effective new treatments for returning veterans with PTSD.
Q: What does your Fulbright project involve?
A: I'll be working at Jönköping University and with the Swedish Institute for Disability Research. I'll be working on a project I designed involving transnational disability rights.
Q: How progressive is Sweden?
A: Sweden is one of the most progressive nations on the planet but has had some of the worst outcomes for some persons with disabilities. This is because policies do not exist in a vacuum, but can intersect in different ways that undermine policies.
Q: What's a good example?
A: Sweden has achieved near gender equality in the workforce, and they have also done a fantastic job of giving disability-related decision-making directly to parents regarding children with physical or mental disabilities. But because both parents work in most families, this means children are often left at home with a rotating attendant, or sent to a special school or institutionalized. My research will look for a middle ground where we can ultimately integrate children with disabilities into the community.
Q: What's your view of our progress in social justice?
A: In the USA, we're still debating the extent to which the country wants social justice, whereas other developed countries see it as an intuitive, positive trajectory.
Michelle Nolan is a Bellingham freelance writer.